We have reached a singular global moment. We can now edit genes with unprecedented ease and precision—any genes, in almost any living thing, from plants, to insects to people. But public mistrust is building. Hard decisions need
to be made. How do we apply this technology? What sort of future do we want? And who gets to decide?
The Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, together with an international network of research partners, are convening the first Global Citizens’ Assembly on Genome Editing to get to the heart of these issues. The assembly will propose global principles that will shape how this controversial technology will be used today and in the years to come.
How do we apply this technology? What sort of future do we want? And, who gets to decide?
With the recent shocking announcement of the world’s first-ever gene-edited humans – China’s secretly engineered ‘CRISPR babies’ – public mistrust is building. Hard decisions need to be made. How do we apply this technology? What sort of future do we want? And, who gets to decide?
Scientists called for dialogue at a global level. The demand to place the public at the centre of the discussion is growing.
But what kind of global dialogue can take place? We live in an era of disinformation and political polarisation, of conspiracy theories and declining trust in scientific institutions. Is a meaningful discussion on complex technologies and moral disagreements possible?
The Global Citizens’ Assembly
The Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance (the Centre) at the University of Canberra is convening the world’s first Global Citizens’ Assembly on genome editing. It presents a concrete response to the urgent ethical and regulatory questions in relation to genome-editing technologies.
The Global Citizens’ Assembly will bring together at least twenty-four participants representing different countries across all continents most affected by genome editing. Participants will take part in five days of deliberations about the global principles of governance of genome editing. They will have access to eminent scientists at the forefront of genomic research, ethicists, and other stakeholders. They will have the ear of decision-makers at national and global levels.
A Global Citizens’ Assembly provides
a concrete response to
the urgent ethical and regulatory
questions in relation to
The recommendations of the global citizens assembly will be turned over to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Director-Generals of the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization, to relevant ministers and government departments throughout the world as well as to major relevant stakeholders from the Industry, Civil Society and Science and research.
With over two decades of experience in designing, implementing, and assessing citizen forums, the Centre and its partners have strong evidence proving that democratic deliberations like citizens juries, when run correctly, have the power to generate legitimate recommendations based on citizen input. The thinking behind it is as simple as it is sounds: When ordinary citizens are given the chance to gain credible information, the opportunity to exchange their ideas with a diverse group of people, and the time reflect on their views, citizens are willing and able to come up with recommendations to shared problems.
Learn more about deliberative democracy here.
Generating a Global Conversation
Central to the design of the Global Citizens’ Assembly is its ambition to generate a global conversation about genome editing. Our project teamed up with Genepool Productions—an Emmy-award winning production company—to film this event to capture the excitement, pressures, hard work, and intense discussions over five days.
The Global Citizens’ Assembly will be featured in a three-part science documentary series about how citizens of the world might weigh in on one of the most consequential and complicated issues of scientific ethics. The subject under examination is genome editing technology, including the revolutionary genome editing tool CRISPR.
Each episode of the documentary
provokes a question, a conundrum
at its core. What’s okay?
Like Genepool Production’s prizewinning films Vitamania: The Sense and Nonsense of Vitamins and Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines, the documentary on genome editing will be beautifully crafted, illuminating, and deeply moving. Each story will build in the complexity and extend the global audience’s understanding of science and its challenges. Each episode of the documentary provokes a question, a conundrum at its core. What’s okay? What’s not?
The third and final part of the series will cover the selected jurors and their route to the Global Citizens’ Jury. Screen time will be spent on jury deliberations interspersed with blue-chip science shorts looking at who controls the technology and how any guidelines might be implemented.
The documentary series will have a global appeal and will be screened in various outlets including national broadcasters (currently under negotiation). It will present a compelling story of what happens when citizens from different cultures and contexts come together to deliberate on some of the most challenging ethical dilemmas in contemporary times.
The design of the Global Citizens Assembly?
The diagram below outlines the overall design of the Global Citizens’ Assembly and associated activities. In short, Genepool will produce a special edit of their science documentary that will feed into both the national and global deliberative events as part of the process of informing participants. Expertise will engaged to provide additional evidence relevant to the local case, drawn in part from a proposed interdisciplinary global consortium of researchers (Global Observatory for gene editing), which will participate in providing information to the Global Citizens’ Assembly.
Genepool will film some of the national deliberative cases, as well as the Global Citizens’ Assembly. The resulting “deliberative documentary” will be screened in multiple countries, and the impact of viewing tested to evaluate how well the experience simulates the deliberative effects of actual participation.
The report from the Global Citizens’ Assembly will be provided to national level bodies (along with the relevant national report), and global organisations including the UN and WHO. A synthesis report will also be produced in conjunction with members of the Global Observatory, distilling the main implications of the findings for managing the ethical dimensions and governance of genomic technology development, testing and implementation at a global scale.
The Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra is the lead organizer of the Global Citizens’ Assembly.